Voter turnout above 80% anticipated for 2024 presidential election, Sarasota County supervisor of elections tells County Commission

Ron Turner’s staff preparing for larger in-person voting on Election Day

With three elections scheduled in 2024 — the March Presidential Preference Primary, the state and local primaries in August, and the General Election in November — Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner this week talked with the county commissioners about the necessity of hiring temporary staff to make those elections go smoothly.

He and his staff are anticipating total voter turnout greater than 80% in the 2024 General Election, he said, indicating the interest in the voting for the President of the United States.

“We’re also preparing for a large Election Day turnout, potentially,” he added.

In the past, Turner continued, he and his staff worked on the assumption that one-third of the county residents who planned to vote in an election would do so through early voting opportunities; one-third would vote by mail; and the final third would vote in person on Election Day.

Voting by mail increased somewhat after the COVID-19 pandemic began in the spring of 2020, Turner noted. However, he indicated uncertainty about the “behavioral patterns” that he and his staff will observe in 2024.

Moreover, Turner pointed out, “We’re adding a couple hundred new net voters in Sarasota County each week.”

In fact, he continued, he and his staff have been working on cleaning up the county’s voter rolls. First, he said, they have been comparing national change-of-address information to those rolls. “We’ve identified about 20,000-some changes in voter records.”

People could have left the county, for example, Turner pointed out; some may even have left the state.

The next step, he noted, is to contact citizens who have not cast ballots during the recent election cycles to find out if they still are active voters.

Among other details for the 2024 elections, Turner pointed out that he expects to add a 10th early voting site in November 2024. It likely will be in the northeastern part of the county, he said.

A lot of residential growth has occurred both in that area, Turner added, and in South County.

The Fruitville Public Library, which he and his staff have been using for early voting, “is already completely packed,” he said.

He will add about nine new polling locations, as well, he continued.

Further, Turner told the commissioners, “We’ll be hiring about 300 additional poll workers.” He has 31 — 32, counting himself, he said. “I am a working supervisor, as you all know.”

About 1,000 poll workers will be needed for the General Election in November 2024, he pointed out.

Additionally, Turner said, “We hire more than 600 temporary staff” for an election year. Those persons will be distributed among the various Supervisor of Elections Office locations, he noted, including what county staff calls the “BOB Building” in the eastern part of the county, where voting equipment is stored.

“They help us in a variety of capacities in our offices to augment our staff,” Turner explained of those temporary workers.

Turner’s proposed budget for the 2024 fiscal year is $9,176,652. His adopted budget for this fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2022, is $7,632,096. Thus, his 2024 budget marks an uptick of 20.2%, compared to the one for the current fiscal year.

During the commission’s 2019 budget workshops, Turner proposed spending $6,775,738 in the 2020 fiscal year, in preparation for the 2020 elections.

The 2024 figure, Turner pointed out to the commissioners, is “actually down from where we were four years ago. … Our budget’s very cyclical.” It is always higher in election years, Turner said. “We have very large expenses that occur in a very short, defined period of time, right before an actual election date and occurring right after.”

He did note that his staff will send out the first two batches of vote-by-mail ballots for the 2024 General Election during the 2024 fiscal year, which will end on Sept. 30, 2024. Those will go to military personnel and Sarasota County citizens living overseas, he added.

Turner also pointed out that his plans call for 33 full-time employees in the 2024 fiscal year. The figure was 30 for the 2020 fiscal year.

New equipment needed

After Turner completed his budget remarks, he told the commissioners he needs new voting equipment before the 2024 election season begins. With new commissioners in place since his last presentation about a year ago, Turner explained that, under Florida law, the county purchases and owns the voting equipment, but the Supervisor of Elections Office is the custodian of that equipment and the operator.

He also stressed that Section 101.5604 of the Florida Statutes forbids hand counting of ballots.

Further, the state has approved systems from only two companies — Dominion and Election Systems and Software LLC (ES&S). In December 2015, the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office began using ES&S machines, Turner noted.

ES&S has upgraded its equipment in Florida, he continued. “They have new hardware and software,” which Florida’s Secretary of State Cord Byrd just certified two weeks ago.

“We propose purchasing 70 new precinct-count tabulators,” Turner added, plus 10 “accessible ballot-marking” devices designed to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Commissioner Neil Rainford, whom Gov. Ron DeSantis recently appointed to fill out the term of the late Commissioner Nancy Detert, made the motion to approve the purchase of that equipment under the provisions of state law related to single sources of products. The motion also authorized the submission of a letter to state officials in regard to that purchase.

Commissioner Michael Moran seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously.

Secure voting procedures

Rainford did take the opportunity during the discussion to ask Turner about the Supervisor of Elections Office’s protocols for testing voting equipment. Rainford noted that people often ask him about that process.

Turner explained that the Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is responsible for undertaking “a rigorous certification” of voting equipment. Then, when the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office gets new machines, Turner continued, his staff tests the equipment before accepting it.

Any software upgrades go from the company to the Office of the Florida Secretary of State, where it is reviewed and then made available to county supervisors of elections, Turner said.

Next, before each election, he continued, his staff undertakes a public test of a certain percentage of the voting machines that will be used. That lasts for several hours, he said.

“We also do a test before each election.” Every piece of equipment that will be used “out in the field” must be tested, Turner added.

After voting has been completed, Turner explained, he and his staff take every ballot and process it through the ClearAudit system and compare the results to what the ES&S machines show.

The audit system, he noted, is in a secure room with dual access control. The room has no connection to the outside, he pointed out — no way to access wi-fi, blue tooth technology or any other means of connecting with the internet.

Chair Ron Cutsinger noted that he had served on the Canvassing Board for a recent election in the county and had found the work of the Supervisor of Elections Office to be “very impressive.”